Ben Goggins | For Savannah Morning News
Published: Monday, April 12, 2021 at 6:30am EST
I got a close look last month at some shining Savannah stars, ages 9 to 14. They were a group of kids from Savannah Youth City alongside the limo about to whisk them to Astronomy Night at the Oatland Island Wildlife Center. Under crystal-clear March 12 skies, hot chocolate and a campfire were just around the corner.
While waiting for other kids and parents to arrive, Savannah Youth City founder and Director Beverlee Trotter explained that the limo was courtesy of Hollis Johnson. His Above and Beyond limos are Paula Deen’s favorites, and tonight the kids were getting the VIP treatment.
Trotter introduced me to a 10-year-old boy holding a book – a book titled “Jeremiah Justice Saves the Day!” It’s a superhero book about a boy with a tracheostomy tube, and this is that real-life boy, Jeremiah Capers. It was written by his school nurse to celebrate his courage and character.
Trotter couldn’t be prouder of him. Jeremiah is her nephew, and she held him for the 60 days he spent in the ICU as an infant before being discharged with feeding and tracheostomy tubes.
Despite the long odds for survival that his family faced, he has thrived. Trotter said, “Besides his own family, the kids of Savannah Youth City have played a big part. Our kids have always treated red him normally, and their energy has transferred to him.”
Trotter’s own positive energy is contagious. Service to others is foundational to Savannah Youth City. “Our programs are meant to build kids who take care of themselves and their community. We were the first organization in Georgia to become a certified partner with Teen CERT, the national Community Emergency Response Team program.
“Our kids were prepared to help the community when COVID hit. From last March to now we have distributed $15,000 in gift cards and food to our elderly and homeless citizens. In our own group everyone has learned to operate the devices Jeremiah needs for tracheostomy tube maintenance. So our kids are trained to help across numerous city neighborhoods and right close to home.”
On this starry night at Oatland, teacher Tim Cornish was impressed with the kids’ enthusiasm. “As we crossed the marsh boardwalk, they were thrilled to see the alligator eyes glowing. When we settled in and watched the sky, I talked about how the heavens were the ancient storyboards. The kids were very interested in the constellations.
“I talked about Orion, the hunter, and they easily picked out the stars in his belt, sword and shield,” he said. “They were psyched to learn about Taurus, the bull, and the part he played in how Europe got its name.
“We used the handout made of film layers to determine the magnitude of different stars and everybody confirmed that Sirius was the brightest. They were quick to explore the stars of the Big Dipper and how they point to the North Star.”
Trotter explained to me afterward that some had just studied Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad in school. “So they were very familiar with how escaped slaves ‘followed the drinking gourd,’ to find their way north in the dark of night.”
Each year Savannah Youth City offers a summer camp, always free of charge. They make field trips introducing the kids to the city’s cultural and historical sites, exploring the urban forest, helping neighborhood clean-ups, working with Feed the Hungry, visiting churches, parks, the beach – and Oatland Island.
“We have 48 kids in Savannah Youth City now, and more are waiting to join,” Trotter said. “If you want to help them extend their reach, watch for their fundraisers, like the car wash they had last week on Victory Drive.
I arrived in my dirty car, and it came away so clean that I wish they made house calls. One boy who worked on the tires asked if I had driven to Orion and back.
As they finished up their night at Oatland, one young girl said with pure delight, “I’m going to dream about this.” It makes me feel good that my car’s wash can play a part in that kind of wonder.